Singapore boxer punches above weight to reach last four

PULLING NO PUNCHES: Singapore's Leong Jun Hao (left) in action against Malaysia's Khir Akyazlan Azmi in the men's light welterweight quarter-finals yesterday.

He picked up boxing only because he wanted to experience competition in a "manly" sport.

Unheralded Singapore boxer Leong Jun Hao could now find himself in the ultimate David vs Goliath scenario on Wednesday, in the final of the light welterweight (64kg) category at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.

In one corner could be the 24-year-old Leong, a fitness instructor who lives in Jurong West.

In the other, Thailand's 25-year-old Asian Games champion Wuttichai Masuk.

First, though, Leong has a tricky semi-final to negotiate today against Cambodia's Ratha Ven.

"Yeah, I know if I get to the final I could face Wuttichai, but I want to take things one step at a time," said Leong yesterday, after his 2-1 quarter-final win over Malaysia's Khir Akyazlan Azmi at Expo Hall One.

"I've seen his (Wuttichai's) fights and he's very composed, a very good boxer.

"But I have the Cambodian to beat first."

Thailand boxing coach Omar Puentes Malagon was impressed by what he saw of Leong.

When The New Paper asked the Cuban what he thought of the Singaporean, he said: "The one that will fight the Cambodian tomorrow?

"I saw him, I think he can win.

"Good boxer, intelligent. If you have brains (boxing smarts), you can win."

This is Leong's second SEA Games.

In Myanmar in 2013, he lost in the quarter-final after a split decision defeat by Indonesia's Ericok Amanopunyo.

He insists he has improved.

"That SEA Games was an eye-opener," said Leong.

"I think the main difference now is my confidence level. And the fact I've gotten a lot of exposure (in international competitions) since."

Leong is one of six Singaporean boxers assured of at least a bronze medal (see list below).

The hosts' great hope for a first gold medal since 1985, bantamweight (54kg) Ridhwan Ahmad, had to contend with a spirited challenge from Cambodia's Samie Suon in his quarter-final, but a sweet uppercut in the second round and a left hook in the third gave him a unanimous win.

Ridhwan faces Thailand's King's Cup winner Tanes Ongjunta in the semi-finals today.

After two successive bronze medals, the 28-year-old is fired up to win gold on home soil, although he admitted the raucous home support yesterday took some getting used to.

"I mentally expected it, but I guess there were a few nerves," he said.

"But I stayed calm and didn't react to the crowd, and that's important. I've got to keep my cool.

"I'm here to go all out, and I'm going to test (Tanes) with whatever I've got - skill, willpower, heart... Hopefully it's my destiny to win gold."

SINGAPOREANS IN 
TODAY'S SEMI-FINALS

  • Women's light-flyweight 
(45-48kg): Leona Hui v 
Josie Gabuco (Phi) - 2pm
  • Women's flyweight (51kg): 
Ang Fen Ni v Nguyen Thi Yen (Vie) - 2.30pm
  • Men's flyweight (52kg): 
Hanurdeen Hamid v 
Maung Nge (Mya) - 4.30pm
  • Men's bantamweight (56kg): Ridhwan Ahmad v Tanes Ongjunta (Tha) - 6.15pm
  • Men's light welterweight (64kg): Leong Jun Hao v Ratha Ven (Cam) - 7.15pm
  • Men's welterweight (69kg): 
Tay Jia Wei v Henrique Pereira (Tls) - 7.30pm

Heavyweights' day on the mats

Regional heavyweights continued their dominance in the SEA Games judo competition at the Singapore Expo Hall 2 yesterday.

In the opening women's under-63kg final, 18-year-old Kiyomi Watanabe defeated Thailand's

Orapin Senatham to win repeat her 2013 success.

Myanmar's veteran Soe Yan Naing, 36, also won his second consecutive gold in the men's under-100kg category. He held off the challenge of Thailand's Sitthipong Niemkunchon, 15 years his junior.

Another veteran, Vietnam's Nguyen Thi Nhu Y, 34, clinched the women's under-78 kg. Her victory was sweeter as Myanmar's two-time gold medallist Aung Aye Aye had beaten at the 2013 Games.

But there was no final glitter for Singapore as their best hope, Gabriel Yang, lost to Indonesian favourite Horas Manurung in the men's under-90kg category.

With Yang's silver and bronzes from Timothy Loh (men's under-100kg) and Tania Forichon (women's under-63kg), Team Singapore now have five medals, surpassing their best haul of four in 2013.

Tags: SEA Games 2015 and judo

Bring it on

At stake today — Singapore’s football hopes and more golds in table tennis and swimming

TIME TO BOUNCE BACK: Singapore’s Isabelle Li (above) will be looking to erase the disappointment of her early exit in the singles competition by doing well in the team event today.
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Irfan and Sahil to lead Young Lions' attack

Under pressure to deliver, Young Lions will go on the attack tonight

GROUP A

CAMBODIA U-23 v 
SINGAPORE U-23

(Tonight, 8.30pm, 
Jalan Besar Stadium)

Facing a do-or-die scenario tonight, Singapore Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar has decided to ring the changes for the team's Group A clash with Cambodia as they look to stay alive in the SEA Games football competition.

First, he has shaved off the scruffy beard which he has sported the past few weeks.

Asked by The New Paper if it was a superstitious gesture, Aide replied: "I'm trying this and that. If this helps, then I'll keep shaving."

The more significant change, however, will be seen on the Jalan Besar Stadium pitch tonight.

Under pressure to win to keep up hopes of a semi-final place, Aide is set to start with two strikers.

Irfan Fandi will start as the team's target man up front, with Sahil Suhaimi close behind him as the support striker.

After an unconvincing 1-0 win over the Philippines last week and a 2-1 defeat by Myanmar on Thursday, fans and critics have lobbied for the 40-year-old coach to field Irfan from the start - especially after the misfiring Sahil has gone two games with several misses and no goals.

The 17-year-old Irfan has made an impact coming off the bench in the last two games.

In desperate need for goals tonight, an Irfan-Sahil combo could be just the kind of firepower the Young Lions need.

"We've been working on our finishing the past few days in training. The aim is for our strikers to be more composed in front of goal," Aide said.

"We have to make our chances count. Maybe the problem is that the players are too tense. I've asked them to relax a bit.

"Sahil has been trying really hard. He just needs one goal to get that confidence again."

With playmaker Shahfiq Ghani still sidelined with a knee injury, the switch to two strikers means midfielder Adam Swandi will likely drop to the bench.

Safirul Sulaiman and Pravin Guanasagaran, who was impressive against Myanmar, will occupy the engine room, with Faris Ramli and Stanely Ng patrolling the flanks.

The attacking approach, said Aide, has nothing to do with Singapore's need for goals to boost their goal difference, which stands at 2-2.

Indonesia, who thrashed Cambodia 6-1 on Saturday, are likely to win big against the Philippines tomorrow.

When the Young Lions meet the Indonesians on Thursday, a draw might be enough for the visitors to qualify for the last four ahead of Singapore.

"Indonesia have an advantage with the goal difference, but we just want to get the three points against Cambodia," Aide said.

"I'm not telling my boys we must score six or seven. And when we play Indonesia, we will go for a win as well."

Aide, along with assistant coach Kadir Yahaya, scouted both Indonesia and Cambodia on Saturday.

He was surprised by the big scoreline, and Aide reminded his team not to underestimate Cambodia, who beat the Young Lions 3-1 in a friendly in March at Jalan Besar.

"Cambodia know they can still qualify (for the semis). So we can't be anything less than at our best," Aide said.

"The next two games will be a test of our character. The players must be focused and strong."

Singapore U-23s probable line-up: Syazwan Buhari, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, M Anumanthan, Shakir Hamzah, Pravin Guanasagaran, Safirul Sulaiman, Faris Ramli, Stanely Ng, Sahil Suhaimi, Irfan Fandi

Anu pledges to defeat Cambodia

Singapore midfielder M Anumanthan was so enraged after the 2-1 defeat by Myanmar that the 20-year-old created a mini-ruckus in the tunnel at the Jalan Besar Stadium last Thursday.

On the way back to the dressing room, he yanked aside a plastic-protected bench meant for the fourth official which was blocking his way.

Anu (above) was sheepish over the incident yesterday.

"I was just thinking how unfair football was," he told The New Paper, 24 hours before the Young Lions clash with Cambodia tonight.

"We tried so hard but still lost. And the goals we conceded were frustrating."

The Myanmar result is now history for the Singapore Under-23s as they prepare for their third Group A match.

But memories of an even earlier game still linger.

They lost 3-1 to the same Cambodia side in a friendly at Jalan Besar in March; a result which prompted widespread criticism of the team and coach Aide Iskandar.

The nightmare game was capped by the dismissals of defenders Shakir Hamzah and Sheikh Abdul Hadi.

"We became complacent after we scored early," recalled Anu.

"I guess we went in there thinking, it's Cambodia, (so) we should win. Then they scored once, twice and a third time.

"Each time they celebrated like they won the World Cup; it was quite demoralising.

"We won't be underestimating them again. This Cambodia team aren't bad at all. Their fighting spirit can be quite irritating for the opponents, if you know what I mean."

The past few days have been pretty solemn in the Singapore camp.

Although a draw against Cambodia would not be the end of the road - Singapore can still qualify for the last four if they beat Indonesia on Thursday - Anu believes anything less than three points would be a disaster.

"A draw... We're not even thinking about that," he said.

"The team had a chat after the Myanmar game. We picked ourselves up and the coaches told us that this must be the last time we are down like this."

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Myanmar footballers look like medal prospects

GOAL! Sithu Aung celebrates after scoring Myanmar's fourth goal.

GROUP A

PHILIPPINES 1

(Shirmar Felongco 17)


MYANMAR 5

(Nay Lin Tun 21, Shine Thura 46, Ye Win Aung 62, Sithu Aung 69, Kyaw Zin Lwin 90+2)

Despite suffering an early scare at the Jalan Besar Stadium, their confidence never wavered and, in the end, the Myanmar Under-23 team went on to claim an emphatic triumph.

With a 5-1 win over Philippines in last night's SEA Games Group A encounter, they are almost certainly through to the semi-finals.

They could still finish outside the top two given there remains a chance of a three-way tie with Indonesia and Cambodia -- progress to the last four would then be decided by goal difference -- but that equation is highly unlikely as Myanmar all of a sudden look like serious contenders for a football medal.

Myanmar boss Kyi Lwin believes they are gold-medal prospects.

"We are growing in confidence and belief that we can get the gold medal," he said.

"However, our  key players are suffering from fatigue and we'll most likely have to rely on some of the reserves for our final game (against Cambodia).

"But we'll continue to prepare for that game as best as we can, and hopefully the semi-finals and final after that."

Following impressive wins over Indonesia and Singapore in their first two matches, Myanmar were expected to cruise to victory against bottom side Philippines.

But they found themselves behind after 17 minutes following a fine individual effort by Azkals captain Shirmar Felongco, who embarked on a 40-metre run before clinically finding the bottom corner.

But four minutes later, parity was restored when Nay Lin Tun netted with a deflected free-kick. Myanmar took the lead a minute after halftime as Shine Thura lashed a shot past Nathanael Villanueva at the near post, and from then on, the White Angels never looked in danger of letting the three points slip away.

Ye Win Aung added a third in the 62nd minute with a close-range finish, before further goals from Sithu Aung and Kyaw Zin Lwin capped off a dominant display.

  • PHILIPPINES: Nathanael Villanueva, Richard Talaroc (Neil Dorimon 66), Julian Clarino, Ronnie Aguisanda (Kennedy Uzoka 75), Dominic Del Rosario, Shirmar Felongco, Paolo Bugas, Jaime Cheng (Fitch Arboleda 43), Paolo Salenga, Nathanael Alquiros, Connor Tacagni.
  • MYANMAR: Kyaw Zin Phyo, Kyaw Zin Lwin, Ye Win Aung, Phyo Ko Ko Thein (Ko Ko Hein), Hein Thiha Zaw, Nay Lin Tun (Thiha Zaw 57), Ye Ko Oo, Hlaing Bo Bo (Aung Show Thar Maung 70), Sithu Aung, Shine Thura, Kaung Sat Naing.
  • TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Shine Thura (Myanmar)

Soh wins marathon gold in the rain

Welcoming the rain, Singaporean bags gold in only his second marathon

"At one point, around the 12km mark, I was 40 seconds behind because at the 6km mark, all of us got sent the wrong way and had to turn around. So from third I became third-last. That sucked, but I told myself I shouldn’t let that affect me." - Soh Rui Yong

Halfway through the men's marathon yesterday, the heavens opened.

While the downpour didn't help any of the 12 runners, it gave Soh Rui Yong a reason to smile.

The cool conditions helped the Oregon-based Singaporean to win the South-east Asia (SEA) Games gold, crossing the finish line at the Kallang Practice Track in 2hr 34min 56sec. Astonishingly, this was just the second marathon Soh had ever run.

"I told my assistant team manager Morales (Menon) before the race: If it rains, I'll be in my element," said Soh. "With the rain, it's still humid but not hot."

Soh is the second man to win the marathon at the SEA Games, following Mok Ying Ren's historic triumph in Myanmar in 2011.

The 23-year-old business administration undergraduate at the University of Oregon would not have guessed the elements would be on his side in the morning, after he went through his final training session 24 hours earlier in blazing hot conditions.

On Saturday, Soh told The New Paper his plan for the race was to just be patient.

And boy, did he bide his time.

Entering the Practice Track neck and neck with Thai rival Srisung Boonthung, Soh made his move in the final 200 metres of the 42.195km race, eating up the bitumen in a stunning 33 seconds to leave Srisung behind.

The 34-year-old Thai eventually crossed the line in 2:35:09.

"(Srisung) was leading most of the race but wasn't going very fast, so I thought he was either not feeling too well or he was saving something for the end," Soh said.

"I waited a little bit, saw him stumble at the cones (with about 400m to go), then at about the 200m I gave him a little stare and went on ahead.

"Then I turned back to look at him again and I couldn't see him, so I knew I had won."

ECSTASY

Soh cupped his ears and pumped his fists down the final stretch as a crowd of over 200 fans and fellow Team Singapore athletes, who had gathered despite the rain, roared him on.

Singapore Athletics (SA) president Tang Weng Fei was overjoyed.

Armed with a Singapore flag, the oil trader leapt onto the track to embrace Soh at the finish line. Later, still brimming with excitement, Tang slapped this reporter on the back and said with a wide grin: "What did I tell you last year? I knew Rui Yong could do it!"

Originally pencilled in for the men's 10,000m - he is the national record holder - an exhausted Soh said he could give Wednesday's final a miss.

"I've got nothing in the tank now, I'm so tired," he said.

"It's unlikely. Unless I can win a medal, I won't run. I'll decide on race day."

Yesterday's triumph has given Soh a boost and he is eyeing a spot at next year's Rio Olympics.

"I graduate in December, then I think I'll take some time off and see if I can qualify for Rio," he revealed. "I give myself a 20 per cent chance, but even if it was just one per cent, I'd go for it."

Soh appeared bemused when the press wished him a happy birthday - his date of birth is listed on the Games document as June 8 - before realising the source of the confusion.

"My birthday is actually in August... I gave my birthdate (to Singapore Athletics) in the American form," he explained.

But he had no trouble when asked to describe his feelings post-race: "One word... Shiok."


FACT FILE 

  • Name: Soh Rui Yong 
  • Born: Aug 6, 1991
  • Height: 1.77m
  • Weight: 65kg
  • Personal bests: 10,000m — 31 min 19.15sec (national record)

Marathon — 2hr 26 min 01 sec

  • Did you know? Soh logs about 160km in training per week.

Philippines outclass Malaysia for rugby 7s title

Philippines outclass Malaysia for gold, while Singapore settle for bronze

TOO GOOD: The Philippines (in blue) won the gold in the men's rugby7s, scoring 177 and conceding 27.

PHILIPPINES 24

MALAYSIA 7

They lamented the intermittent rain which resulted in a slippery pitch on the first day of the South-east Asia (SEA) Games rugby 7s competition on Saturday.

Yesterday, the grey clouds stayed away, the sun shone and the Philippines saved their best for last as they romped to the gold medal in domineering fashion, beating Malaysia 24-7 in the final.

The Philippines completed a remarkable two days of rugby 7s when they won all five round-robin matches and the gold-medal match with a combined score of 177-27.

The Volcanoes, comprised mostly players with Philippine heritage who live overseas, were a class above the rest. With the win, they went one better than the silver medal they won at the 2007 Games in Thailand - the last time rugby was featured at the biennial event.

"We have six guys on this team who played in 2007. They were 20 years old then and they've waited eight years for the gold," said Philippines' director of rugby Matthew Cullen.

"It was a competitive tournament, and credit must go to all the teams. But we saved our best performance for last.

"The conditions were much better today for a fast 7s game and the longer format of 10 minutes per half in the final match suited us better, too."

Malaysia held firm for the first five minutes before Patrice Olivier opened the scoring for the Philippines.

The Volcanoes added another two tries a minute either side of half-time through Justin Covenay and Matthew Saunders, which effectively killed off the Malaysian challenge.

The final five minutes saw Azmi Zulkiflee score a late consolation before Harry Morris put the icing on the cake in the final minute.

"We controlled possession and kept (the Malaysians) tackling and tackling - that wears anyone down," Cullen added.

REDS FINISH THIRD

Singapore, meanwhile, were left to rue their 14-10 round-robin defeat by Thailand yesterday morning, which relegated them to the bronze-medal match.

The hosts, who beat Malaysia on Saturday, were locked in a three-way tie for second place with the Thais and Malaysians. They eventually missed out on try difference, having scored three fewer tries than their Causeway rivals after five games.

The Singapore Reds, who targeted the gold before the Games, exacted sweet revenge on Thailand in the bronze-medal match, trouncing their opponents 21-0.

Samuel Teo, Derek Chan and Ho Yishu were the try scorers for the hosts.

"The first game of the day is always tough," said a disappointed Singapore captain Daniel Marc Chow.

"There were so many stoppages (that) we lost momentum. And the Thais were cunning. They knew how to play us.

"We felt we were the second best team in the tournament (after the Philippines). But the game of 7s can be cruel. At least, we have the bronze. We've worked so hard for this for over a year, we simply couldn't leave here empty-handed."

Both Singapore and the Philippines will now turn their attention towards the Asian Sevens Series beginning in September. For the gold medallists, though, a place at next year's 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro is the ultimate goal.

"We have an Olympic qualifying tournament in Hong Kong in November and would love a crack at that," Cullen said.

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